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A subject of concern to the Mayor’s Committee is the outcomes for youth who receive SSI who are transitioning into the job market. An article published by the Center for Improvement of Research Evidence (CIRE) has cited a variety of reports that indicate there are lower employment rates, earnings, and educational achievements among youth with disabilities who receive SSI than those who do not. The reports indicate that many youth receiving SSI end up relying on federal disability programs for life.

The article states: “The programs that have been rigorously tested for these youth—the Youth Transition Demonstration and Promoting Readiness of Minors in SSI—involve a comprehensive set of services that might be difficult, costly, or otherwise impractical to pursue. And new initiatives, such as the pre-employment transition services that state vocational rehabilitation agencies are rolling out, could miss many youth who receive SSI, given their underuse of the supports mentioned above.”

The article goes on to state: “A wide range of programs are available to youth receiving SSI. Local education agencies provide special education services, which can include job-focused transition programs. The Social Security Administration offers supports to encourage employment—for example, by excluding some earned income from the calculation of SSI cash payments. State vocational rehabilitation agencies and local workforce centers make employment supports and training available to eligible youth. However, youth receiving SSI may not take advantage of these programs because of a lack of awareness, low expectations on the part of family members and service providers, and insufficient services or transportation in their local communities.”

Is there a lack of awareness of these programs? Are the expectations of SSI recipients lower than those of the general public? Is there fear of losing benefits altogether? And most importantly, if employment is available, will the individual truly gain ground by working?

Testimonials from individuals with disabilities receiving SSI across the US indicate a frustration with the rules of SSI; rules that are confusing, time consuming, seeming to create far more obstacles than open pathways to increasing one’s income by gaining employment. Primary among these concerns are the loss of benefits, especially medical or personal care benefits. These concerns are shared by parents of teens and adult children receiving SSI.

The Mayor’s Committee understands that it is not easy to navigate the murky waters of the SSI rules, especially with regard to working and maintaining medical coverage. Committee member Jennifer Zimmerman offers her understanding of those fears, and of the fact that there is a lack of awareness and a need for education, assistance and encouragement. “Parents don’t always realize that their child can get the Medi-CAL coverage without the SSI allotment. This is where most people receiving SSI get stuck and surrender to a life in poverty. Most are not aware that they can make over the allotted $1220 per month and still keep their Medi-CAL insurance through SSI.”

Committee member Scott Shepard, offers the following expertise and encouragement: “As someone who has assisted individuals receiving SSI to become employed for nearly 40 years, I have found that it is ALWAYS more beneficial for people to work when they receive SSI. People with SSI who do not work will generally live in poverty. The facts are that they will always earn more money while working, even as their SSI decreases based on their monthly income. Their Medi-CAL benefits will continue even if they earn enough to decrease their SSI income, and any work costs due to their disability can be deducted dollar for dollar as an Impairment Related Work Expense (IRWE).”

Committee member Kathleen Secchi spoke about the protective impulse of parents who fear a loss of benefits. This fear can be overcome with information, help and encouragement. Kathleen said, “It’s not surprising that families are afraid to let any benefits go that they’ve had to fight so hard for. The alternatives historically haven’t been very comforting. We do see that the options and landscape are starting to change, but we have so much work ahead of us. Any glimmer of light in that direction is fuel for our mission.”

We are moving into a time where the employment climate is changing in ways that provide many more opportunities for full time employment. The Mayor’s Committee looks forward to working with both employers and individuals with disabilities in 2019, with a focus on youth who are transitioning into the job market. It can be an exciting time for them, and we are committed to do our best to improve the outcomes for youth who receive SSI.